TUBA, Benguet – A newly formed youth group wanting to institutionalize responsible mining has noted in a forum the various contributions of Philex Mining Corp. to community building, environmental protection, and economic progress, as it called for transparency on the recently concluded mine audit done by government regulators on major miners nationwide.
“Responsible mining exists,” Kate Trishia Papina, a geology student at the Adamson University, in Manila, and a founding member of standFIRM: Filipinos for the Institution of Responsible Mining, said Friday in a presentation at the Conference Hall, of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), in Baguio City. “The indigenous peoples and other residents in some parts of Benguet, for instance, have benefited so much from the free health-care services and other social projects granted by Philex Mining.”
Speaking before the “Minahal, Minamahal, Mamahalin: Ang Kwento ng Pagmimina” (“Loved, Loving, Will Love: The Story of Mining”), Papina told an audience of 120 students and professionals of various academic fields from the University of the Philippines-Diliman, in Quezon City; Adamson U, in Manila; and UP-Baguio, Saint Louis University (SLU), and University of Baguio—all in the Philippine summer capital of Baguio City—that other Filipinos must open their eyes to the benefits of mining, that it helps protect the environment when done responsibly.
Neil Clark Esber, a founding officer of standFIRM, meanwhile, called for transparency in the mine audit—done by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)—and its results, which were presented Sept. 27 by Secretary Regina Lopez and Undersecretary Leo Jasareno in a news conference held at the DENR headquarters in Quezon City, where she announced the recommendation to suspend 20 firms found to have violated mining regulations.
“We demand transparency, how the mine audit was carried out with the participation of anti-mining activists, and how they came up with the results,” Esber, a mining engineer from UP Diliman and formerly a Pusong Philex scholar, said in reply to a question from the floor toward the end of the forum.
While 11 mining firms passed the audit done by the respective technical teams, the DENR had already suspended the operations of 10 mining firms before Sept. 27, bringing to 41 the total number of metallic mine operations in the Philippines.
Ma. Clarence Victoria Clemente and Kevynne Celis, both geology students at Adamson U and standFIRM members who emceed the conference, said that “Minahal, Minamahal, Mamahalin” is a series of events, including forums, aimed at tackling issues on “responsible mining in community development and environmental sustainability.”
Christian Ed Uytico, a mining engineer from UP Diliman and a co-founding officer of standFIRM, said the Baguio forum conducted for the Northern Luzon Chapter of the group is part of its official launch, which had kicked off the events in Davao City. “Many of us here have just passed the board exams, and we’re not working yet,” he added. “So we spend our time going around the country to give lectures on responsible mining and ask other students and young professionals to join us in this endeavor.”
He said that students taking up non-mining-related courses are also welcome to register with standFIRM, which has the support of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines—an association tasked to advance the interests of mining, quarrying, and mineral processing companies—and some mining firms.
Another mining engineer from UP Diliman and also a founding officer of standFIRM, Lorenzo Cayaban, explained during the forum how mining operations contribute to sustainable development through the various programs on rehabilitation that a large-scale miner does on its mined areas, as well as on livelihood that continue even beyond the life of the mine.
He also told the forum how the further advancement in the arts, sciences, and culture would not be possible without mining, as almost all tools and equipment that man uses for such cars, tractors, computers, cell phones, and pieces of jewelry, for instance all come from metals extracted from the orebody found underground.
Stressing that government regulations on the mining industry are well in place, Cayaban debunked what the so-called anti-mining advocates have said that large-scale miners would mine thus, destroy the whole country if allowed to continue operating. “The laws are very clear on which areas may be utilized by mining companies,” he said, adding that the 16,200 hectares of land where a prospective miner is allowed to explore will be cut in half once it gets a permit to develop and, eventually, exploit yet a smaller portion of it for metals production.
For their part, Aldous Pitogo and Zedrick Tungol, both mining engineers from UP Diliman and also founding officers of standFIRM, stressed how large-scale miners are mandated to spend 1.5 percent of their current year’s operating costs for various social projects, information campaign, and research for industry development lined up for the following year. They added that miners are also mandated by government to secure funds for the rehabilitation of mined areas even before the end of the life of mine.
“Even open pits used in some mining operations may be converted into fishponds afterwards,” Tungol said, adding that responsible miners start rehabilitating the environment—in the form of, say, reforestation and/or forestation—even before their operations. “No business entity or organization whatsoever has planted more trees than a responsible, large-scale miner. It’s about time we all gave focus on the mine rehab being done by mining companies.”
As what Papina said in her presentation, Philex Mining, for instance, has been faithful in its adherence to responsible mining by embarking on massive refo programs in its 60 years of operations. She also noted the health-care facilities that the company has built for its beneficiaries, as well as other infrastructure projects like bridges, school buildings, farm-to-market roads, and potable water systems granted to its host and neighboring communities in the Benguet towns of Tuba and Itogon.
For this year alone, Philex Mining has set aside P110 million for various social projects intended for its outlying communities (both host and neighboring), as well as for information dissemination and research work on the industry. It had also paid P6.6 billion in all the regular taxes required of it, and another P3.5 billion in mining-related taxes in the five years to 2015; as well as spent P65 million for reforestation program since 1987 that involves 8 million trees planted across 2,750 hectares of land in the host municipalities.
Describing standFIRM as a proactive, science-based and youth-driven national coalition, Jasper Geronimo and Nathan Degay, both students of mining engineering at SLU, read out the group’s manifesto before they opened the registration for new members.
“We are the next generation of leaders,” they read aloud. “Some of us dream to be educators. Others to be doctors. Others to be engineers and economists and scientists. Some of us choose to be miners.” They added: “We all standFIRM against irresponsible mining and seek the institution of responsible mining in the Philippines.”